Review: A Howl in Makhanda at the vNAF (National Arts Festival) Curated Programme

✳ The vNAF Curated Programme has been extended until July 16 2020. The vFringe has been extended until July 31. Scroll down for production credits and ticket info for A Howl in Makhanda.

I saw A Howl in Makhanda by Qondiswa James, in January 2020, on stage at Magnet Theatre, Cape Town. I was riveted when I saw the piece – writing, performances and design. As with many other plays staged in Cape Town, I left the theatre and felt that I needed to see it again and hear it again. The words by James punch through a gamut of issues – including race, privilege, history, prejudice, adolescent angst, gender, bodies, sexuality- framed within the “bubble” of an élite all girls boarding schooll. Superb performances and direction. Read my review: The review includes excerpts from my interview with Qondiswa James, providing insights into how the play was inspired by her expulsion from a school in Makhanda.

I was chuffed to be able to experience the play again on the vNAF. A Howl in Makhanda is a text rich play. I tuned in, expecting to listen. It is not easy to film live performance- retaining the essence of the live performance. The transfer from live to recording can come across as “flat”. I pressed ‘play’ and immediately I saw that this is not simply a film recording. Then I saw that the producer is acclaimed filmmaker, Jenna Bass and that Shaun Swingler is on camera. It is a superb rendition of live performance through the video of film – utterly watchable. The text itself bounces back on the fact that we are in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic. Schools closed in the national lockdown. Bubbles of access have been extended through distance learning – for the fortunate who have access to data. Watching this play now and I hear the refrains of callers to radio stations who talk about how their children have lost out in the pandemic. Privilege has gone to another level.

We don’t  know when school attendance will ‘normalise’ in terms of the pandemic. That is one story. More importantly, there is the legacy of apartheid in this country which lingers even in so-called elite schools – as depicted in the play. In these schools, it is supposed to be “equal” but the reality is that for young Black people, it is a constant battle to navigate racism in institutions which supposedly punt diversity. Speak out and you are likely to be muted; expelled, cast out. In getting schools going, with all the sanitizing measures and what-what, there is much to consider in terms of oversight of power and repression.

The howl must be heard. It is not only a howl in South Africa. It is a howl for the world. It is a howl for those who try and water down the Black Lives Matter movement and retort “ALM”. It is a howl for those that say that we are all equal in the pandemic. Nope. We are not. It is a howl for those that blithely remark “this too will pass” and that “we are exactly where we should be”. Only the privileged can espouse these kind of pithy mantras. A Howl in Makhanda is not a comfortable play. It is not meant to be. It is text which disrupts. We are living in disruptive times. The power of theatre is that it provides a safe space to reflect and engage. Let’s engage. Don’t miss this play.

This is what James said to me in January, 2020: “It is an excavation of a personal history in which I believe I have found evidence of the coloniality still at play in South Africa today. I write this play in an attempt, through speaking truth to silence, to expose the systemic violence of our neoliberal democracy which is racist and capitalist.”

By the way, there are loads of laughs in this play. It is dark humour, sure but there is lots of mirth. Watch out for the webinar reference and the etiquette for addressing gender. Love it! This is immersive and contemporary drama – given another life on film at the vNAF. Bravo to the National Arts Festival, for funding this film. Bravo to James, cast, Themba Stewart, Jannous Aukema and to the film crew – Jenna Bass, Shaun Swingler and Lubabalo Bozo.

A Howl in Makhanda

Platform: Virtual National Arts Festival 2020

Programme: The Curated Programme. A Howl in Makhanda has been selected by the NAF and may be viewed via a festival day pass or a full festival pass or buy per show– tickets below

Genre and format: Video recording of theatre play A Howl in Makhanda

Duration: 1 hour and 5 minutes

Language: English

Age Recommendation: 14+

Production details

Writer and director: Qondiswa James

Cast: Kim Adonis, Megan Theron, Yamkela Ntendiyo, Rosa-Karoo Loewe, Zukisani Nongogo

For the NAF recording:

Producer: Jenna Bass
Camera: Shaun Swingler
Sound: Lubabalo Bozo
Editor: Stephen Abbott
Composer: Jannous Aukema
Lighting Designer: Themba Stewart

Tickets: R600 full festival pass – provides access to the jazz AND the entire curated programme. An R80 day festival pass provides access to everything on The Curated Programme – which includes the Jazz Festival. The Fringe is not included. An individual ticket to see A Howl in Makhanda, costs R35. Direct booking link:

Festival info on TheCapeRobyn: Click here or see